Yes, the Worst Methane Leak in U.S. History Just Happened Right Here in L.A.

Yes, the Worst Methane Leak in U.S. History Just Happened Right Here in L.A.
Aliso Canyon via Earthworks/Flickr

Los Angeles politicians like to proclaim that the city is a world capital when it comes to different endeavors (entertainment, small business, taco trucks).

But we bet they'll keep their proclamations to themselves on this one.

Los Angeles is the capital of methane gas releases, according to a new study from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, UC Davis and others.

The leak of natural gas at a subterranean storage well facility in Aliso Canyon "was the largest methane leak in U.S. history," a summary of the findings concludes.

Researchers say the Southern California Gas Company leak resulted in the release of more than 100,000 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, before it was plugged Feb. 11.

The academics' readings were so high at Aliso Canyon in early November that they thought their instruments might be malfunctioning.

"It became obvious that there wasn’t anything wrong with the instruments,” said Stephen Conley of UC Davis. "This was just a huge event."

The study was published over the weekend in the journal Science. Researchers say the SoCalGas leak beat out the previous champion, a coal mine in Alabama, though they give no details about that release.

"The team’s measurements confirmed that high concentrations of methane and ethane were surging from the Aliso Canyon well into the densely populated San Fernando Valley," the summary says. "The analysis found that at its peak, the blowout doubled the rate of methane emissions from the entire Los Angeles Basin and temporarily created the largest known human-caused point source of methane in the U.S., twice the size of the next-largest source, an Alabama coal mine."

The study makes out the Aliso Canyon leak to be quite an environmental disaster. The 112-day release was "equal to one-quarter of the annual methane pollution from all other sources in the Los Angeles Basin combined," UC Irvine says in a statement.

"The disaster’s impact on climate will be equivalent to the effect of annual greenhouse gas emissions from over half a million cars," the university says.

Academics, in fact, are calling it a "mega-leak."

"The methane releases were extraordinarily high," aid UCI atmospheric chemist Donald Blake, "the highest we’ve seen."


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